These are some of my very favourite tools for blogging: ones I’ve been using for years on my own blogs (and sometimes across multiple websites). I’ve split them into categories to make it easier to find ones that’ll help you.
A few of the links below are affiliate links (indicated with “aff”). It doesn’t cost you a penny extra to buy through these links, but it does mean the company gives me a small commission. This helps me to keep publishing lots of free content on Brighter Blogging. If you don’t want to use the affiliate links, though, that’s fine — just use Google to search for the name of the tool instead.
Setting Up a Blog
WordPress.org – the “gold standard” for blogging, WordPress.org provides the WordPress software that you can install on your own website. You’ll need to purchase a domain name and hosting in order to create a website, but the software itself is completely free. It’s highly flexible, with an incredible number of “themes” (designs/templates for your site) and “plugins” (which provide additional functionality for your site).
WordPress.com – if you don’t want to incur the expense of hosting and a domain name right from the start, WordPress.com is a great alternative option. It’s the “commercial” wing of WordPress: a fully featured blogging platform where you can sign up for free and create your own blog. The free plan does have a number of limitations, though (for instance, WordPress.com may run ads on your site, which you can’t remove), and if you’re looking at upgrading to the pricier plans, you may find it’s better value to set up your own website using WordPress.org instead.
Blogger – while it’s not so well-regarded as WordPress, Blogger (also known as Blogspot) is a popular alternative blogging platform. It’s particularly well-suited to bloggers who want a hobby-style blog. You can make money from your blog by running ads without any issues. Your domain will include the word “blogspot”, e.g. “aliluke.blogspot.com”. Blogger is owned by Google, so you can sign into it using your existing Google account.
Dreamhost (aff) – I’ve used Dreamhost to host my websites since the end of 2007, and I’m still with them. They’ve got good environmental credentials, they send out a funny monthly newsletter, and their support team is always friendly and helpful. My sites have very rarely experienced any downtime, and whenever there have been problems, Dreamhost have been very quick to resolve things. Their “one-click” installation process for WordPress is amazingly straightforward, and the “deluxe” option (which is free) pre-installs popular plugins and themes for you.
Google Analytics – to track how many people are visiting your blog, what pages they’re reading, and lots more, Google Analytics is a great tool. It’s completely free and offers a huge wealth of different features. You simply sign up using your Google account, and install a snippet of code on your blog (there are plenty of plugins that make this easy and straightforward on a WordPress blog).
Making Money from Your Blog
PayPal – if you’re going to make any money by any method online, you’re pretty much certain to need a PayPal account. Many affiliate programs, for instance, only offer the option of paying via PayPal. It’s also a very standard option for selling on sites like eBay and Etsy. Setting up an account is free and straightforward. I’ve been using PayPal for a very long time now (since well before I began blogging — it was a handy way to buy things on eBay when I was in my late teens).
Google Ads – while I’m not a big fan of running ads on a blog, you may find it suits your blog and audience reasonably well. Google Ads is a great way to get started: anyone can sign up, and you simply put the code on your site. You make money if/when readers click on an ad. Keep in mind that it can take a while for the ad revenue to build up, especially if your site doesn’t get much traffic.
Amazon Affiliates – many websites have an affiliates program, and Amazon is no exception. It doesn’t pay out huge amounts (5% is common in many categories), but if someone visits Amazon through one of your affiliate links, you’ll receive commission on all eligible products they buy while on Amazon. For most bloggers, Amazon affiliate income is a nice extra, but some build entire businesses based around it. I’ve had an Amazon affiliate account for many years, since my very earliest days of blogging.
E-junkie – E-junkie handles digital product sales for you, hosting and distributing your files, allowing you to create discount codes, giving you the option to send out updates to your customers, and much more. I used it for many years, only switching away reluctantly because it didn’t offer an easy way to account for EU VAT, when new EU laws came into effect at the start of 2015. I found the E-junkie interface easy and attractive, and I particularly liked paying a flat payment (from $5/month) rather than having to pay E-junkie a percentage of every sale.
Payhip – if you’re in the EU, Payhip is a great option for selling digital products, as the site handles EU VAT for you. It doesn’t charge a monthly fee, but does take a percentage of each sale: if you have a high volume of sales, e-junkie is almost certainly going to work out cheaper for you. The Payhip interface is attractive and straightforward, but doesn’t offer so many options as e-junkie.
Creating Images for Your Blog
Pixabay – this site offers a great range of images on pretty much any topic; some can look a bit bland and are rather obviously “stock” photography, but if you’re willing to do a bit of digging around, you’re likely to find something suitable.
Pexels – this is similar to Pixabay, but with a slightly different range of images. I usually find I’m more likely to get good results from Pixabay, but Pexels can be great for a back-up.
Canva – online tool that lets you create anything graphical that you want: book covers, business cards, logos, etc. It’s easy and intuitive to use, and you can do most things for free. The paid plan, which I use, lets you upload brand colours and fonts: it’s definitely worth it if you’re going to be creating graphics quite a lot.
Paint.NET – free software that you download to use on your computer; great for resizing images and for simple manipulation. There are lots of online tutorials that can help you with pretty much any aspect of it. I often use this in conjunction with Canva, as Canva is more user-friendly but Paint.NET allows more control. Note: be careful to get the right download button (in the table) — the more prominent-looking ones are ads.
Creating and Sending an Email Newsletter
Aweber (aff) – this is the service I use, and I’ve been very happy with it over the years. It’s not the cheapest option, but it offers lots of handy features, and I’ve found it relatively easy and straightforward to use. The help team, on the rare occasions I’ve needed to contact them, have been great too. It integrates with lots of other systems (like PayPal) seamlessly.
Mailchimp – a popular alternative to Aweber, Mailchimp is free at the basic level (up to 2,000 subscribers, which is a pretty good number — by the time you have that many people on your list, you’ll hopefully be making enough to pay for your mailing list software!)
Mailerlite – while I’ve not used Mailerlite much myself, it’s a good potential alternative to Mailchimp, and comes in quite a bit cheaper as your mailing list grows. It’s definitely worth a look if you want something that starts free and that’s relatively simple and straightforward.
Running a Membership Site
Digital Access Pass – I used this software for several years on a membership site I ran. I liked most things about it, but it had a few irritating quirks (one being that I couldn’t customise how long people stayed logged in — they had to log back in every two weeks, even if they were using a private computer and wanted to remain logged in permanently). It did its job pretty well, though, and it integrated nicely with PayPal and Aweber.
Wishlist Member (aff) – I found this software worked slightly better for what I wanted to do with my membership site, and I used it for the final couple of years of running my site. The main drawback compared with Digital Access Pass was that it didn’t fully integrate with PayPal (I had to manually remove people if they cancelled their PayPal subscription).